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Better Call Saul Episode 5 Review – “Alpine Shepherd Boy”

Spoilers ahead

“Need a will? Call McGill” – Catchy, but not as catchy as “Better Call Saul.”

Jimmy McGill experiments with identity this week as he becomes someone the elderly can truly admire, but is he playing a game or does he really want to help these pensioners?

Jimmy certainly wants to help one elderly person: his brother Chuck, whose decreasing emotional state and well being comes into question for this week’s slight misstep of a fifth episode that doesn’t quite catch the quality of the previous episodes.

We start off where episode four left off. The lady who saw Chuck leave the dollar bill under a rock on her drive while he ran off with her paper, has called the police; once the cops turn up things escalate as it turns from a simple inquiry to a full-on assault on Chuck’s house as the cops suspect he is up to no good. “Not the tasers” cries Chuck, but it’s too late, they already suspect him of tampering with electronic equipment. While this sequence was fun and attention grabbing, it was more of a purposefully placed trick by the writers to try and find a way of making Chuck have an impact on the plot, as I will explain later.

After the credits, we are back with Jimmy, who has found new clients easy to come by after his heroic billboard stunt. He is something of a celebrity lawyer now with his clients all complimenting him on his bravery – a sort of foreshadowing of what he will eventually become. But he isn’t quite on the scale of Saul Goodman yet; he’s new to this game and willing to help anyone who can pay, except if you’re the inventor of a talking ‘sex toilet.’ But Jimmy can afford to drop a few clients now, especially if he keeps dealing with people who give him five hundred thousand dollars up front. The whole sequence of scenes displayed Jimmy’s new found fame and credibility, but I think it spent too long showing us this. I mean, the toilet scene was funny and quirky, but it was unnecessary and the same goes for Jimmy’s yearning to help the elderly. It just felt like a forced decision to highlight Jimmy wanting to go straight and prove to Chuck that he can do it, instead of adding to the main overall conflict, and Jimmy’s real goal: to defeat Howard Hamlin.

Don’t get me wrong, seeing Jimmy trying to go straight is an interesting concept, but his decision to help the elderly feels like a dead-end choice and just filler. Last week showed how to balance Jimmy’s motivation to go straight and his Slippin’ Jimmy side perfectly. His moral struggle was highlighted by him pulling off an elaborate and illegal stunt to gain attention, proving his only way of getting ahead in the world is to be Slippin’ Jimmy. But the new clients in this episode don’t push any of his moral buttons – they only serve as light entertainment before the inevitable happens: Jimmy finds out through Kim Wexler that Chuck has been taken to hospital.

Jimmy and Kim arrive at the hospital to be greeted by a nurse who reckons Chuck is faking his electromagnetic illness, and it is all ‘in his head’; however, the audience for some time could have guessed this, and after a long talking sequence with the nurse trying to convince Jimmy that Chuck is faking it, she finally proves it by turning on a piece of medical equipment when Chuck isn’t looking, and low and behold – he has no reaction to it.

It’s a well written sequence, but I just felt it was a little overwritten and focused in the wrong area. We know that Chuck is faking it, and deep down Jimmy probably knows; the writers knew they couldn’t play on Chuck’s illness for too long because he is a crucial part of the Jimmy and Hamlin conflict, and if Chuck was going to spend the whole season indoors, there was no way the Jimmy and Hamlin conflict would grow or escalate because of Chuck being a partner in the firm, so the writers had to get Chuck arrested and out of there. I wish the writers had focused on the conflict between Chuck, Jimmy, Kim, and Hamlin in the hospital because it would’ve raised tension and given subtext to the discussion on whether Chuck was ill or not. The real motivation here was for Jimmy to commit Chuck so he could cash him out of his law firm, but we didn’t see this conflict until Hamlin turned up right at the end of the scene. Yet again, Patrick Fabian (Hamlin) was left with precious little screen-time.

When are the stakes going to raise between Howard Hamlin (left) and Jimmy McGill (right)?

By now, at the midpoint of the first season, I thought that perhaps Jimmy should be crossing over into a ‘danger zone’ where the stakes are at an all time high and his career is on the line; but in this fifth episode there aren’t any bona fide stakes. I’m not talking about having Jimmy held at gun point or having his life threatened; I’m talking about going on from last week’s conflict with Hamlin and taking it to the next level; exploring their relationship and who Hamlin really is … have them make actions towards defeating each other, like Jimmy did last episode, not spending time having Jimmy working towards a career his heart isn’t in.

Jimmy working for old people is trying to symbolize he has a moral compass and is emotionally worried about Chuck getting old and lonely. Also he wants to prove to Chuck he can live like a normal citizen. It’s a point that has been reiterated time and time again this season through various flashbacks and scenes, so we don’t need more scenes to show us this. We want to see what Jimmy really wants: he what he really wants is credibility, notoriety, and to be the best by defeating the best. Watching him talk to new clients (who aren’t related to the overall plot) and not fighting back against Hamlin makes this episode feel like it’s treading water a little.

I stress ‘a little’ because the episode was still effective in that it set up the Jimmy and Hamlin conflict by giving Jimmy the slight upper hand, so he can see Hamlin “sweat a little.” But it didn’t need all those other scenes with his clients before it, it could have been a quick montage (which the creators love using) and focused on a different character.

So far Jimmy has practically been in every scene with his own plot threads, but this episode felt like the perfect opportunity to focus on his friend – no, lover? I don’t know what she is to Jimmy yet, but what I do know is that episode five should have focused on Kim Wexler. Little is known about her other than Jimmy reckoning she should be getting a better job than the position she is in at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. Her presence gives calmness to the more hectic scenes as she can be Jimmy’s voice of reason. That’s fine, but she’s more than just a ‘voice of reason’ character. She seems to be torn between either helping Jimmy or Howard Hamlin. She seems trustworthy but at the same time not. It begs the questions: what is she getting from both sides? Are Jimmy and her an item? Or is their relationship not as deep as it appears? Also, what is her true motivation?

I’m sure these questions will be answered, but it would be nice to see her tackle her own scenes and plot thread. It seemed like the perfect episode to explore more about Kim, because she had to balance her act between both Hamlin and Jimmy carefully. But soon she’s going to have to decide which person promises a brighter future.  If we knew more about her, her balancing act would be put into better context.

I’m sure Gilligan and Gould have got something great in store for us in terms of Kim, so it shouldn’t prove to be too much of a problem; however, it looks like Kim’s back-story might not be revealed for another week or so yet, as we’ll be getting a different character’s back-story next week.

The episode ended with a measured and deliberate pace: it showed us how lonely Mike’s life is as a parking attendant, it revealed to us a family he can no longer see, and the life he will never get away from: his cop life (which we only got small bite-size portions of in Breaking Bad when he told stories when he was on the beat.) So expect the next episode to delve right into his past.

This fifth episode kept up the high level of cinematography by Arthur Albert, who uses wide angle shots sparingly in that when there is one used, it perfectly juxtaposes the well shot interiors.

The acting was also top notch, the stand out was Michael McKean as Chuck, who managed to display genuine belief on Chuck’s face that he was really ill. There’s great chemistry between Bob Odenkirk and Mckean so, hopefully, a tragic fate is not around the corner for Chuck, and it is especially unlikely as McKean recently said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that there won’t be any ‘red wedding’ moments this season (a reference to Game of Thrones’ shocking Season 4 scene.)

Again, Better Call Saul impresses in its own confidence, but its confidence and style can only carry it so far. This was more of a contained ‘bottle’ episode compared to the others, and showcased where Jimmy and Chuck’s heads were at, even though we already knew.

Sixth episode – ‘Five-O’ will follow Mike. As a tragic past comes back to haunt him, he has to seek help from an unlikely source.